Blue Jays: A tribute to Justin Smoak, an All-Star

MIAMI, FL - JULY 10: Justin Smoak
MIAMI, FL - JULY 10: Justin Smoak /

The Toronto Blue Jays seem to have had three straight seasons of feel good stories from one of their players. In 2015 it was the ascension of Chris Colabello and Marco Estrada. 2016 was J.A. Happ silencing his critics and haters for being signed instead of re-signing David Price. Through the season’s first half, Justin Smoak is the feel good story of 2017 and I want to write a tribute piece to the big 1st baseman.

Justin Smoak‘s journey to stardom is well documented. He was a top prospect with the Texas Rangers. He was so highly touted that the Rangers reportedly wouldn’t move him in a deal that could have sent Roy Halladay to the Texas Rangers. While that has never been confirmed, that was the rumour during the time of Halladay trade talks.

Eventually Smoak was moved to the Seattle Mariners in the Cliff Lee trade and he was the main prospect piece going to Seattle. After five up and down seasons that saw Smoak be shuttled between AAA and the MLB, he ended up with the Blue Jays.

Smoak’s Blue Jays career got off to a decent start in 2015 where he clocked 18 home runs in just 328 plate appearances. Smoak finished that season with a 0.6 fWAR. As a part time player, the power production amidst all the strikeouts was something the Blue Jays could put up with. 2016 was a terrible season for Smoak. He struck out 32.8% of the time in 341 plate appearances. He hit 14 home runs with 34 RBI.

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Following a disappointing 2016 which included a highly controversial extension midway through the season, Smoak was given the reigns to the every day first base job. That drew even more ire than the contract extension. The expectations for Smoak were extremely low. Some even thought he’d be supplanted by Rowdy Tellez come mid-season. Regardless, there was little optimism for the 1st baseman.

This season has been one for Smoak that absolutely nobody saw coming. He’s been better than anyone could imagine. To that, I toast Justin Smoak. I was a big fan of his when he came through the ranks with the Rangers and eventually the 1st baseman of the Mariners. I even have a Justin Smoak Mariner’s jersey that he signed for me.

When the Blue Jays acquired him, I was very excited. I knew there was the chance the Blue Jays could unlock Smoak’s potential. It’s taken into the 3rd season of his Blue Jays tenure, but this is the guy many thought he would be back when he came up as a young prospect.

I have a soft spot for players who make fans eat their words. I own a J.A. Happ jersey t-shirt, a Marco Estrada jersey, and will likely order a Smoak all-star jersey t-shirt. It’s easy to root for guys like Smoak when they succeed and make a fan base fall in love with them quickly. Of course, there will still be some fans who are skeptical of the first half that Smoak has put together. For now, we shall cheer Justin Smoak when he starts at 1st base for the American League all-star team.

Next: Blue Jays: Ranking and dissecting the first half

Here’s to Justin Smoak!